After first meeting backstage at an Africa Express show in Middlesbrough Town Hall, Paul Smith approached Rachel Unthank to see if she would like to sing with him, given his interest in folk music and their regional connections.
With Field Music’s David Brewis producing to crown a sensational north-eastern triumvirate, “Nowhere and Everywhere” is a beautiful, exploratory collection bringing old stories to life in pastoral and otherworldly settings. The arrangements shine with clarinettist Faye MacCalman and drummer Alex Neilson providing the soft ripples on which Rachel Unthank and Paul Smith’s vocals weave magical harmonies; real joy shines through their duet on Lal Waterson’s glorious ode to drunkenness, “Red Wine Promises”a song that has been covered by Richard Thomson, June Tabor and Victoria Williams.
Though Rachel Unthank has been immersed in the folk world from childhood, Paul Smith’s route towards folk began in his teens with a love of Martin Carthy, Karen Dalton, Nick Drake and Bert Jansch, especially their fingerstyle guitar-playing. Paul Smith explains, “folk music, as I see it, has always revolved around the everyday experiences of ordinary working people, and the songs are almost commemorations of people’s lives”. Rachel Unthank reflects, “We felt it was important to not sugarcoat our voices– we’re both very direct singers. Starting the album with just our two voices might shock a few Maximo Park fans!”.
Paul Smith is the lead vocalist with Maxïmo Park, an English alternative rock band, formed in 2000 in Newcastle upon Tyne. Their first album, “A Certain Trigger” (2005) was nominated for the Mercury Prize. Paul Smith was born in Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees and he briefly worked as an art teacher at Stockton Riverside College before he was asked to join Maxïmo Park.
Paul Smith’s voice is especially affecting on the Child ballad, “Lord Bateman” with Rachel Unthank’s voice wrapping around it perfectly. The song is a medieval romance with a happy ending. There is a school of thought which says that the adventures described in the ballad actually happened to Gilbert Beckett, father of Thomas à Beckett. Sandy and Caroline Paton sang “Lord Bateman” in 1960 on their EP, “Hush Little Baby”. The liner notes commented: “Perhaps it was during the Crusades that sorties and ballads first became popular in Western Europe about heroes captured by Turks or Arabs, freed by loving Oriental maidens, and pursued home by the said maidens who arrive in the nick of time to marry their man. Germans, Scandinavians, French and Italians all have ballads of this theme, and in England the story of the Oriental girl who follows Thomas a Becket’s father across the sea, and found him by wandering abound the country crying “Gilbert! Gilbert!” has been preserved in a manuscript from about 1300. Clearly Lord Bateman has been influenced by the legend about St Thomas’s father, though the ballad is probably of later date. It remains a firm favourite through the centuries, and gained a new lease of life through its use by music hall comedians in the mid-19th century.”
As one of two lead singers of The Unthanks, Rachel Unthank has dedicated much of her career to celebrating folk songs by writers little known beyond the North East, such as Graeme Miles, whose “Horumarye” appears on the album. This song takes us to the moors of North Yorkshire and Teesside. Rachel Unthank explains that she sees “Horumarye” as “the sound the wind makes whistling over the moors“, and Faye MacCalman’s wonderful clarinet playing hauntingly replicates these winds. Rachel Unthank and Paul Smith’s voices subside to leave us with the cacophony of dissonant clarinet and percussion and Rachel Unthank also plays an unsettling, droning harmonium. Graeme Miles was an English songwriter based in Middlesbrough. During late 1982 and early 1983, Teesside Folk Group The Wilson Family, of Billingham, collaborated with Miles to produce their debut album, “Horumarye”, the first album dedicated solely to Miles’ works. Graeme Miles’ “A Great Northern River” was included on The Unthanks’ 2012 album “Songs from the Shipyards“. They also performed his song “Sad February” on their 2007 album “Here’s the Tender Coming“.
The album is a compelling mixture of original material and traditional folk songs. “Seven Tears” is a Rachel Unthank original, inspired by Norse mythology about a selkie, a mythological seal that sheds its skin to transform into a human lover. The first song on the best album of 2022, “Sorrows Away” by The Unthanks, was “The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry” which is a traditional folk song from Shetland and Orkney. A woman has her child taken away by its father, the great selkie of Sule Skerry which can transform from a seal into a human. The woman is fated to marry a gunner who will harpoon the selkie and their son. “Seven Tears” builds gently, then feverishly, shivering with love. This whole album carries the same liberating feeling throughout. Rachel Unthank explains: “I have always loved the songs and ballads about selkies – a seal in the sea that takes off their sealskin and adopts human form on land. When doing some research about the selkie mythology, I read that if you cried seven tears into the sea, then your selkie lover would come back to you.” Faye MacCalman’s hypnotic clarinet is the only musical accompaniment allowing the two voices to meld perfectly to tell the story.
Tom Pickard is a poet, and documentary film maker who was an initiator of the movement known as the British Poetry Revival. Paul Smith found Tom Pickard’s poem, “What Makes Makems”, in a anthology of North-Eastern poetry, “Land Of Three Rivers” . He was already aware of him and Connie Pickard, who co-organised the Morden Tower poetry readings within Newcastle’s old town wall, having played a few concerts at the intimate and historic countercultural space. He felt the Tees and the Tyne were well represented on the album so he decided to pay tribute to Wearside and its proud shipbuilding heritage. Some of the technical terms ended up sounding like abstract sound poetry to his ears. He feels that he should have consulted his Dad who was a welder.
The clarinet of Faye MacCalman play both harmoniously and chaotically to provide moments of calm and disorder throughout the record. Alex Neilson from Trembling Bells’ plays percussion on tracks such as “The Natural Urge“, providing bursts of cacophony amongst the minimalism. This is an anti-war song, inspired by World War 1 artist Paul Nash, and conjuring up bleak skies though not without a modicum of hope. It’s a really affecting and effective song.
Richard Watson was born on 16th March, 1833, in Middleton-in-Teesdale, to William Watson, a miner in the employment of the London Lead Company. After receiving a basic education at the Company’s school it became clear that the family could not afford to maintain Richard Watson’s education and at the age of ten he commenced work in the local pit. Having displayed a talent for verse from an early age he was able to entertain his fellow pitmen with his compositions, such as “O Mary Will You Go?” and he was eventually able to have his poems published in the local Teesdale Mercury.
“Captain Bover” can be found in John Stokoe’s book Songs and Ballads of Northern England. John Stokoe noted: “This beautiful fragment was picked up by Mr Thomas Doubleday from a woman singing it in the streets, All attempts to recover more of it have been fruitless. Captain Bover was commander of the press-gang on the Tyne for many years, but appears to have carried out harsh laws as leniently as he could to be effective. He died on 20th May 1792.“The High Level Ranters sang Captain Bover on their 1976 Topic album Ranting Lads. They noted: “This song is about a notorious press gang captain who was regarded locally with considerable dread. He gained the approval of the local authorities, however, and was given the honour of a burial in St. Nicholas Cathedral, Newcastle in 1782.” .Corrina Hewat and Kathryn Tickell sang “Here’s the Tender Coming” and “Captain Bover” in 2006 on the latter’s CD “Strange But True”. Corrina Hewat commented: “Press Gangs were greatly feared on Tyneside, as they used cruelly harsh and oppressive measures to recruit seamen, inevitably meeting with resistance and resulting in riots and bloodshed. Even the keelmen of Sandgate, Newcastle, highly skilled and sought-after boatmen who handled the movement of coal from the riverside to ships on the River Tyne, were not safe and lived in constant fear of the ‘Regulation Officer’ Captain Bover and his Press Gang who operated on the Newcastle quayside. Captain Bover died in 1792 and was commander of the Press Gang on the Tyne for many years. Evidence suggests that he did his best to carry out a harsh job as leniently as he could, but this was probably of little comfort to those affected.”
An anonymous blogger perfectly summed up this album. “There’s too much instant gratification on offer nowadays, in all walks of life, including music but to completely enjoy this utterly compelling and masterful collection of stories, you have to delve deep into each song to understand its very soul. Anything truly worth having has to be worked for and when the reward is as truly joyous as ‘Nowhere And Everywhere’, it is completely worthwhile. A true music lover’s release and one that every music lover should own.“
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